Wrongful death occurs when a person dies because of the negligence, misconduct or illegal action of another person, company or entity. Wrongful death lawyers specialize in this area.
When a person has died because of the negligence or reckless act of another party, the victim’s family can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
No action can bring back the loved one. However, this type of lawsuit holds the negligent party accountable and provides a financial benefit intended to replace the resources the loved one would have brought to the family if he or she had lived.
A wrongful death action only considers future loss to the family. It does not reimburse for expenses associated with the person’s medical care, for damages in the accident or other expenses incurred before the death. Those costs must be recovered via a survival action lawsuit.
Survival Action. At a person’s death, their assets and debts become part of their estate. Therefore, for legal purposes, any medical or other expenses associated with the accident or event that caused the death are expenses of the estate. Any reimbursement owed to the estate for physical injuries or property damage also belongs to the estate.
The executor responsible for settling the estate must initiate a survival action to recover the damages owed to the person who died. These debts may include medical care and lost wages if the person spent considerable time in the hospital before he or she died.
The combination of a survival action and a wrongful death lawsuit assures that the family is able to recover the full damages owed because of the loved one’s death.
Consulting with a California wrongful death attorney like Jacoby & Meyers can provide you with legal advice about both wrongful death actions and survival actions.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death action belongs to the loved one’s immediate family: spouses, children and parents. This type of recovery is called “loss of consortium.” and domestic partners or same-sex spouses may also qualify.
In cases where there is no immediate family, more distant relatives can file the lawsuit.
In some cases, the probate court appoints a personal representative to handle the victim’s estate. This person can also initiate a wrongful death action and distribute the proceeds from the lawsuit.
Wrongful death claims may occur because of many situations, for example:
- A vehicle accident
- Medical malpractice
- A criminal act
- An airplane accident
- Violence in a public place or the workplace
- Occupational exposure to toxic substances or other dangerous conditions
- Lack of care or negligence in a supervised activity
- A dangerous condition on public or private property
- Excessive force by police or a security force
- Defective roads or construction
- Defective products or a negligent repair.
Wrongful death may extend to an unborn child if it died because a doctor was negligent or because of an assault on the mother.
An action for wrongful death can also arise if someone was injured and subsequently died of their injuries, even though they may have lived for days, weeks or months before death.
Consulting with a California wrongful death attorney like Jacoby & Meyers can provide you with answers and guidance in pursuing the case.
Recovery in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The costs of the loved one’s medical expenses, property damage and other losses that occurred before death cannot be considered in a wrongful death action. The wrongful death lawsuit it strictly intended to compensate the family and heirs for the economic and personal losses caused by the person’s death.
For example, the following damages are allowed in cases of wrongful death.
Funeral and burial expenses.
Financial support if the loved one would have supported or contributed to the support of a person. For example, a parent would probably support a child until he or she reached the age of 18 or 21.
If the child was 5 years old at the time the parent died, support might include an income until the child reached the age of 18 or lump sum to cover that period. It might also include money for education or medical care, if the child had a known health problem.
The loss of gifts or benefits that the victim would have given the heir. If the victim ran a family-owned business and members of the family received an income or profits from the business, that income might also become part of a wrongful death settlement.
The value of household services that the victim would have provided. If the loved one was a stay-at-home spouse, this could include the value of the home-based services the spouse performed.
Certain non-economic costs may also be included a wrongful death recovery. Here are examples of the non-economic costs that might be considered:
- The loss of the victim’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection and society.
- The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations if applicable.
- The loss of the training and guidance the victim might have provided.
Juries are not normally allowed to consider issues like grief, sorrow, mental anguish or the financial situation of the victim. However, there can be exceptions even to these conditions, depending on the circumstances of the person’s death.
There are complex factors at play in determining loss in any wrongful death lawsuit, both in terms of the circumstances of the death and the factors that can be considered in the settlement. Only experienced California wrongful death lawyers like Jacoby & Meyers can fully understand the issues involved in a specific case and advise you about the best way to proceed in these cases.
Timing in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Time is the most valuable resource in a wrongful death case for two reasons.
- You must act immediately so that valuable evidence and witness testimony are preserved, not lost or changed.
- California has a statute of limitations of two years on all injury cases.
It is normal to want to delay hiring an attorney in a wrongful death action, especially if the injury causing the death occurred some days, weeks or months before the death.
Hiring a proven wrongful death attorney Los Angeles firm like Jacoby & Meyers immediately assures that critical evidence, testimony, medical records, and other information essential to the case remain available.
The Role of a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Attorney
The attorney you hire to represent you in a wrongful death lawsuit has a complex role in planning and pursuing the lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits have the potential to recover a large amount and this economic factor affects a number of legal decisions.
For example, if the victim has a large number of heirs, it might be necessary to create a probate estate in the victim’s name. The proceeds of the lawsuit would then come into the estate and be distributed from there to individual heirs.
The law firm must also assign complex financial values to various elements of the case. This means determining the loved one’s life expectancy and using that as a way to calculate the potential support that person would have provided to his or her family.
Determining life expectancy requires a complicated analysis of such factors as the victim’s age, health, lifestyle, activity level and occupation. Calculating potential financial support to the heirs is another complex calculation that would consider the victim’s employment history, income and projected future wages.
A wrongful death action might also include a calculation to place a monetary value on the loss of companionship, society and consort. By definition, these losses cannot be calculated.
This element must be determined by the wrongful death attorney, based on his or her knowledge, skill and experience. Beyond that, the lawyer must be able to present the argument for these losses persuasively to a judge and jury in court.
Liability and damages in a wrongful death suit is another subjective calculation that can play an important role in the settlement of the case. Only an experienced wrongful death attorney like Jacoby & Meyers and their experts can pull the necessary information together to make a persuasive argument for these losses.
Jacoby & Meyers: California Wrongful Death Lawyers
In their 40 years of legal practice, Jacoby & Meyers has taken on and won numerous wrongful death suits. Jacoby & Meyers provides three essential benefits:
- A proven track record of success in wrongful death lawsuits
- An established and experienced network of experts in various technical, medical and economic area
- The resources to pursue and win a case that extends for a long time.
Contact Jacoby & Meyers to discuss your wrongful death lawsuit. You will speak directly to one of our experienced wrongful death lawyers and the consultation will be free.